Helping children cope with sudden death is difficult; especially when you are having a hard time processing what has happened yourself. I was in denial until I logged on to Facebook this morning and saw all the posts about the loss. I should’ve stayed away. I have no words, no understanding, I am in disbelief. Why did this happen? How can such a great person, friend, and father be gone –just like that? And how do I help my children cope with this sudden death?
I received a call at 2:00 a.m. this morning from my ex-husband telling me that one of his close friends, someone who I and my children also knew, had been shot and killed outside his home on Wednesday night. When I awoke to ready myself for work this morning it had not yet sunk in that he was gone. I remembered receiving the call and I thought to myself, “was it a dream?” but when I looked at my phone, I saw that it was certainly reality. This friend had been my ex’s roommate and a part of his inner circle for many years; and we’ve all known each other since school days. My children knew, and were quite fond of, this friend so I know this loss will hit them quite hard.
Earlier this year, we dealt with the death of my ex’s grandmother. Although a very tough loss that we still struggle with on the bad days, her health had declined and she was in her late eighties. We were able to better prepare –knowing that she was likely going to pass shortly. With this loss, it was sudden. My ex was just talking about he and his friend’s plans and things they were going to be doing soon. For someone so young, only 33 years old, to be gone in an instant –and so violently– is hard for me to understand. As such, it will be even harder for me to help my children understand.
It is my job as a parent to help my children understand and accurately process the things that happen in their lives. In this case, I am charged with placing this event in the proper context and perspective so that they will ‘get it.’ How can I do that when I don’t ‘get it’ myself? How can I interpret this event, and measure the meaning that it holds for my children, when I haven’t been able to do that for myself? This guide to dealing with sudden death that I found on the web offers some great direction on how to help children and adolescents deal with sudden death.
As for what I will tell them, I plan on being honest about what happened (based on what I know at this point). I will also invite them to speak openly about how they feel about this loss and to reflect on their memories of their dad’s close friend. I think the most important thing is to make sure they know it is ok to feel sad, mad, and to hold on to their memories. After all, our good memories are what help us to make it through tough times like these.
I want to hear from you!
Do you have any tips for how to help children cope with sudden death? Please leave me a comment below and let’s have a discussion.